Personal growth and recovery from abuse is a journey. The journey we shall take commences at the point when one’s inner life begins, as a child, but not a living child, an inner-child, locked in time, forever orbiting in the universe within one’s head, and there is likely more than one such personality inside us. Each of these cursed children that is set free, each triumphant release, will advance the sufferer toward his new authentic self; toward a life free of the urgent imperatives and compulsions of his pain and imperfection.

Personality disorders exist within a spectrum and are often associated with depression. Physical and emotional abuse can also be classified within a spectrum, from common and mild to exceptional and severe. In this work I am using a broad definition of abuse that is not restricted to physical, sexual or emotional harm. Harm can come from an invalidating environment, one that demeans or denies the intrinsic value of the person, a failure to treat the person with attention, respect, and understanding. This environment may be a family, a relationship, a person or a status, such as poverty or persecution. The nexus of abuse exists in a transaction between an invalidating environment and the emotional sensitivity of the person. Milder, or short term, psychological pain is a normal condition, a part of life. Psychological pain caused by abuse is a common contributor shared by the majority of sufferers of depression and those with personality disorders. Though not all sufferers of depression or personality disorders report having experienced abuse and not all those reporting abuse have depression or personality disorders. Both the environment and the emotional, or pain, sensitivity of the person bear on their long term mental health. This is not to rule out genetic, biological and other physical causes of psychological distress and dysfunction but our focus is on the invalidating transaction and, using the techniques of mindfulness, pre-visualization, myth and fantasy, mapping a pathway on which one can progress from pain and acting out to fulfilment and satisfaction.

The morning sky might be a brilliant, cloudless expanse of blue; the sun’s brilliance enough to sting your tired eyes, yet the beauty of this overture to your new day mocks you, insults the memory of your nightmare from the night just passed when, awash in anxiety, you dreamed that someone was trying to kill you. The sounds of the day beginning are like tinny music from a distant radio station distorted by loud static. Your head aches mildly, for no particular reason that you care to discern. Movement, even lifting a limb, is an effort that demands more than strength; it requires a force of will that you have long been incapable of rousing. “Face the day,” you tell yourself, and the question rebounds immediately: “Why?” Bluebirds may alight upon your window sill; the gay chatter of children may summon your attention; a partner may reach tenderly to touch you, and yet you recoil, mentally pulling the heavy covers over your head to hide in the darkness, to sleep forever.

Angrily you curse the advance of time that forces yet another twenty-four hours upon you. Around and around the hands spin on that impassive dial, advancing, but going nowhere; it feels like still another merciless lap of the marathon track that is your cursed life. Bitterly, you regard joy, beauty, respect, kindness, love & happiness as expensive jewels that you could never afford. Instead, you wrap yourself in the threadbare cloaks of cynicism, jealousy, false modesty, or vanity, and isolation; cold comfort indeed.

In moments of reflection you feel anxious, lost and confused. Though you are unhappy with your life at present, and unsure of its purpose you are unwilling to take action to change it. To outside observers this might seem irrational or phobic. If it were true, they would be right, but it is not quite true: you may be willing to take action but you are unable to choose what action to take. In your current state you are struck by a paralysing fear of unknown consequences, which becomes a fear of change. Without committing to change you cling to your present painful circumstances, you cling to certainty, and it rewards you with predictable pain. Your fear of change is a fear of uncertainty. Strangely, it is this path into the unknown, this state of uncertainty, that will lead us out of our pain and toward progress. You need to destabilise your repetitive, cyclical patterns of maladaptive thought and behaviour to develop new, more mature behaviours, to reduce the pain and to stop acting out.

Some people exist for may years in this fearful paralysis, until one day, a calamity befalls them that forces them to change. A positively transformative life-changing event may also force changes upon such a person who otherwise might have existed in stasis for the rest of their lives. To spend one’s life waiting for this to happen is like expecting to be struck by lightening and knocked off one’s horse like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. It’s like waiting for “Mr. Right”. It’s like hoping to win the lottery. It happens, but not nearly often enough to make a difference to most people’s lives. So what is one to do?

Suffering, feeling numb, or feeling bad and being unable to identify the feeling, provided me with the impetus to search for the part of me that existed before the damage. Reading and therapy sessions raised the idea of the inner-child. Visualisation and exploration of my inner-child was instructive and illuminating, revealing pain and other emotions that had been almost forgotten, but this information alone opened up no paths to progress. Many people with personality disorders are high functioning individuals with well developed life skills. However it is common for sufferers to use dissociation to achieve high level functioning in adverse life situations. An individual may “dissociate”, or split off, from his or her actual present self into another functional persona, such as an “inner child” or a character that is a projection of his inner-child’s imagined maturity, a wish fulfilment state. These personas are often called splits.

Some therapies, including regression therapy, make the mistake of indulging the inner-child; they treat the discovery and appreciation of the inner-child and his needs as the ultimate goal of therapy. It is not. The inner child is searching for new parents; the challenge is to re-parent oneself, a seemingly impossible task.

Research and further therapy revealed to me the exact nature of the seven challenges that constitute this re-parenting task. The map of the seven paths is illustrated here.The key component of the seven challenges is the commitment to change. Progress is not possible without change and change will not take place without acknowledgement of the pain and abuse, including radical acceptance of one's present situation, feelings, faults and limitations (the symptoms), followed by a deliberate and committed intention to take action to effect change and to adopt the products and imperatives of change. This will result in changed behaviors. Recent psychological research into the condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has developed these ideas as a therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). An adaptation of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, it has been found to provide consistently significant benefits to the majority of subjects presenting with BPD.

Taking my cue from DBT I view progress and maturation through change as dialectical in nature. First one must discover, examine and accept one's particular emotional sensitivity, one's pain, and then develop a true understanding of, and a coming to terms with, the invalidating environment; this is radical, nonjudgmental acceptance. The damage you have suffered is bad, your sensitivity to the pain is neither good nor bad. This acceptance must be accompanied by an unwavering commitment to overcome your challenges by monitoring your thoughts and feelings, adopting strategies and behaviours that are situationally appropriate to better outcomes and by incorporating this new self knowledge into a new self-concept. This is the process of re-parenting oneself toward the goal of authenticity with integrity, honesty, and resilience. Authenticity does not mean self-pity or self-indulgence. It means speaking your own truth and living by it.

Achieving the goal of a new life requires that one completes the seven steps. The last of the seven commitments is to have faith. Faith draws one forward, like the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the opposite of despair. I am not talking about religious faith, though that is a type of faith that helps some people. Having faith, one can reenter a childlike state wherein one can experience the dreams and emotions of the inner-child and so, discovering a real person there, commit robustly with love and faith to re-parenting that vulnerable child.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Gillespie is the creator and author of the Aurora's Dreams website and blog, as well as the soon to be released title "Aurora's Dreams: Seven Steps to a New Life".
An adopted Australian by birth and a global traveller, Mark has lived and worked in various countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, The Middle East & North America. He has committed to his own personal growth through meditation, diet and over ten years of psychotherapy.